A new survey of teachers by EdWeek and Merrimack College revealed some trends among educators in 2023. This, combined with a survey conducted by the NEA in 2022, offers some illuminating insights into how teachers perceive the state of their profession. The overall assessment was mixed, with morale appearing to be heading up but issues of working conditions, mental health, and pay cited as major factors undermining teacher and student performance.
The EdWeek-Merrimack survey found that teachers’ satisfaction with their jobs was up
from 2022’s all-time low of 12%. In 2023, 20% of teachers said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs. That’s positive, but not when compared to satisfaction rates from a decade ago when the job satisfaction rate was 40%. Though still lagging pretty severely, the trend is at least moving in the right direction.
Another positive trend from The EW-M survey is that the percentage of teachers who say they will quit in the next 2 years fell from 44%(in 2022) to 35%. Still a high proportion, but again, moving in the right direction. A 2022 working paper from Boston University, University of Florida, and Temple University found that for every 100 teachers who say they are going to quit, only about 34 actually do. If that assessment holds true, then the actual percentage of teachers who intend to quit (according to the 2023 survey results) is closer to 12% — very close to the percentage on the survey who said they were “very likely” to quit (14%).
Another EW-M finding that was better than 2022 is the proportion of teachers who say they feel respected as professionals by the general public, which rose to 55% from last year’s 46%. This is still, however, much lower than 2011 when 77% of teachers felt respected as professionals. Perceived respect from parents and other school staff was higher than from the general public, which is also positive.
The NEA survey is larger (more than double the size of the EdWeek -Merrimack survey) and older (it’s from 2022). Its findings differ in a couple of key areas. One important difference is that higher proportions of Black and Hispanic teachers indicated they would be leaving teaching sooner rather than later; 62% and 59% respectively, as opposed to 55% of all teachers. This is important because there is already a severe dearth of Black and Hispanic teachers; they comprise only about 20% of all teachers. Those levels of attrition would make already small numbers almost vanishingly small. This means a Black or Hispanic child would have at most a 1 in 10 chance of having a teacher that looks like them.
The NEA also cited high rates of burnout among teachers — 90% of teachers said their level of burnout was serious or very serious. The NEA survey also reported that 76% of teacher did not feel respected by the general public or parents, which is a much higher proportion than the EdWeek-Merrimack study. The NEA results were at the tail end of the pandemic and the beginning of the battles over curriculum and book banning , so it possible that the EdWeek-Merrimack survey indicates an improvement in climate over the last year or so. But it’s also possible that the two surveys measured populations that were just different enough in experiences and location to produce dissimilar results.*
The two surveys converged and agreed in a number of important areas. The greatest proportion of teachers in both surveys indicated that raising pay would help them address stress and burnout (67% of the EW-M respondents and 96% of the NEA respondents). It makes sense; relieving financial burdens eliminates stress from other areas of a person’s life and makes it easier to tolerate work-related stress. Another point of agreement: practices and protocols to support better mental health for teachers and students. These included everything from mental health days to yoga breaks to hiring more school psychologists and classroom associates to help manage kids. Respondents from both surveys agreed that mental health issues for both teachers and kids were affecting teachers’ performance and students’ achievement.
Interestingly, CNN reported on these two surveys and identified some of these concerns — mental health and low pay and teachers planning to quit — but also cited fears over gun violence in schools as a motivating factor, using a third survey from 2018. To be sure, that survey did ask about gun violence and reported that 51% of all teachers saw it as a crisis and 36% saw it as very serious, for a total of 87%. In the article, CNN quoted the president of the NEA on the cyclical nature of mourning and the way each new incident brings the cycle to the surface again. Perhaps it was this comment that led to the discussion of gun violence, which is not part of either the NEA or EW-M surveys. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t weigh with teachers or contribute to their anxiety, especially in light of the 66 shootings that have occurred on school campuses since the Uvalde mass shooting in May of 2022.** The NEA president’s recent comment may have been anecdotal in nature.
So what is the state of the teaching profession in 2023? Some people are planning to quit early but might not. Perceived satisfaction and respect were better but not a lot better. Low salaries and mental health continue to be ignored.
Education and educators love a definitive answer, but “mixed” is about as good as we’re going to get here.
*For example, being an NEA member may change how a teacher perceives a variety of situations, or surveying a group of teachers in a rural area might produce different results than another part of the country.
**That’s 7.3 school shootings for every month schools were in session between May 2022 and May 2023, if you’re counting.